Swainsboro Emanuel County Chamber of Commerce holds their 68th Annual Awards Banquet


The Swainsboro-Emanuel County Chamber of Commerce hosted its 68th Annual Membership Meeting and Awards Banquet on Thursday, January 26, at Swainsboro Golf and Country Club. As always, the event was held to honor and recognize those who made Emanuel County a wonderful place to call home during the year of 2022.

The event began with an invocation by board member, Wade Johnson, and a buffet style dinner that was catered by Heather Belle’s Catering. Once guests had completed their meal, Chamber President and CEO, Ken Warnock, shared some special remarks on the establishment of the Chamber of Commerce and its board of directors, who work diligently to create the many events and traditions that locals enjoy year-round.

Warnock then shared that the Chambers goal for the 2023 year is to create more community wide events. These events include a wildlife dinner that will be held this fall to show our appreciation as a community, to both in-town and out-of-town hunters, that spend money within our county. They are also discussing with City Council and County Commissioners, the initiation of hosting regular state of the community press events, which will give residents the opportunity to know exactly what is going on in Swainsboro and Emanuel County. The last event that the Chamber hopes to establish this year, is Taste of Emanuel. This event will give locals the opportunity to try the homegrown flavors and foods that are made right here in Emanuel County. He then explained that the Chambers goal for 2023 is to become more involved with the community and asks that you do the same thing. Get out and see what Swainsboro is all about!

Warnock further shared that thanks to the funding provided by the City of Swainsboro, the Emanuel County Commissioners, the Chamber of Commerce, the Emanuel County Development Authority, the Millcreek Foundation, and the Pine Tree Festival Foundation, Swainsboro’s new Conference Center, which is located at the old Movie’s-To-Go building, will be completed in early Spring of this year. The conference center is a 6,000 square foot facility with new restrooms, a catering kitchen, and a small meeting room that will be available to the community to rent for events. The Chamber hopes to begin booking events in early April so if you’re interested in renting the Conference Center for any upcoming Spring or Summer events, please contact the Chamber of Commerce to get more information.

After sharing these important remarks, Warnock took the opportunity to personally thank Chamber Staff - Director of Membership and Administration, Donna Haddock, Director of Tourism and Events, Anna Torrance, and Emanuel County Development Authority President, Jack Bareford, for not only their assistance in preparing the nights event but their continuous hard work and dedication. He added that the members of this team are the driving force behind any success that the Chamber has collectively.

After applause was held for Chamber Staff, Warnock recognized Keith Adams and his team at Nordson for sponsoring this year’s Chamber Banquet, as well as Jerry and Paula Cadle for being a long-time sponsor of the Emanuel County Student-Teacher Achievement Awards or STAR Program, the Millcreek Foundation for sponsoring many Chamber events throughout the year and for sponsoring the Business of the Year and Person of the Year awards, and lastly, Jim Roberts with Southern Traditions Floral and Gifts for his hard work and generosity in sponsoring the nights décor and floral arrangements.

Warnock then recognized Special Guests and local Dignitaries, Representative, Butch Parrish; Emanuel County Commissioner, Jim Sherrod; Emanuel County Board of Education, Tanya Lane; Clerk of Court, Kristin Hall; Emanuel County Sheriff, Jeffery Brewer; District Attorney, Tripp Fitzner; Middle Judicial Circuit Judge, Bobby Reeves; Mayor of Twin City, Matt Donaldson; Mayor Pro Tem of Twin City, Jule Bady; Twin City, City Councilman, Charles Moody; Twin City, City Councilman, Jesse Brown; and PAGE Star Director, Dr. Hayward Cordy.

Warnock then recognized the Chambers outgoing board of Directors, Gail Ware, Jim Roberts, Zac Frye, and Bill Kennedy and presented a special plaque to outgoing Chairman, Larry Calhoun, who has served as Chairman for the previous two years and will remain on the executive board.

Warnock then recognized the incoming Board Members for 2023, they are Chairman, Cason DeVane; Chair-Elect, Lisa Bertoch; Secretary-Treasurer, Vicki Anderson; Past-Chair, Larry Calhoun; Chair of Development Authority, Will Donaldson; Butch Frye, Jim Mercer, Tim Garrett, Kenny Griffin, Wade Johnson, Damien Scott, Kristin Hall, Russ Yeomans, Richard McNeely, Neil Shah, Milton Gray, Anson Walden, Jessica Peebles, and Scotty Hattaway.

After recognizing special guests and board members, Warnock explained that in Fall of 2022, Leadership Emanuel was able to have its first class in 40 years. The intent of Leadership Emanuel is to build better, more informed leaders within our community through a series of sessions emphasizing practices of exemplary leadership, business and industry tours, and group discussions on issues facing our community both now and in the future. The class met at various locations throughout our county allowing the participants to experience the opportunities available, better equipping them to be more effective leaders for the future. After sharing information on Leadership Emanuel, Warnock then recognized the 2022 Leadership Emanuel Class, these people are Anna Torrance, Avery Williams, Brooke Marsh, Dr. Shannon Lawrence, Harley Strickland Smith, Jonathan Hampton, Kayla McKenzie, Lisa Bertoch, Mary Radford, Michala Valora, Morgan Boulineau, Scotty Hattaway, Shayna Boston, Sonya Wilson, Stefanie Mason, Steven Clark, Tonya Hooks, Vicki Anderson, Zach Proctor. The next classes are scheduled to begin in Spring 2024. For more information, please contact the Chamber at 478-237-6426.

Chair-Elect Lisa Bertoch then presented the 2023 PAGE Student Teacher Recognition Awards, known as the STAR Student and Teacher awards, to Emanuel County’s Star Students and Teachers. To obtain the 2023 STAR nomination, High School Seniors must have had the highest score on a single test date on the SAT and also be in the top ten percentile of their class, based on their grade point average. When a Star Student is named, they are allowed to select a STAR Teacher to share in their recognition. The students and their teachers are honored by their schools and also receive special recognition in their community from one of the more than 70 statewide civic organizations and businesses that serve as local sponsors of the STAR Program. Students then compete for school system titles and those winners compete for region honors. Region winners compete for the honor of being named, STAR PAGE STAR Student. STAR Teachers continue with their STAR Students at every level of the program. For Emanuel County Schools, the Chamber of Commerce sponsors this program as well as Cadle Law Firm. These are the 2023 STAR Students and Teachers that will represent Emanuel County:

David Emanuel Academy’s 2022-2023 STAR Student is Senior, Peyton Free.

Peyton Free is the daughter of Bill and Haylee Free of Swainsboro. She has been a student at David Emanuel Academy since she was in the third grade. Her awards include, Headmaster Honor Roll, Highest Academic Average in the 9th grade, and Academic Excellence in numerous subjects. She is a recipient of the Georgia Certificate of Merit, the High School Heisman, and the Scholar Athlete Award. She is a member of the SAT 1200 Club, recipient of the College Board Rule and Small-Town Recognition Award, and is a school and district winner in the DARSA Writing Competition. Free is Zell-Miller Scholarship Eligible, was nominated for Governors Honors Program her Junior Year and is also duel enrolled at Southeastern Technical College. She has served as Class President throughout high school and was nominated as Cheer Co-Captain her senior year. She is a BETA Club member, has participated in one-act play throughout high school, and is a State Winner for personal essay in the Spring Literary Competition. In athletics, Free has participated in cheerleading, tennis, soccer, and track and field. For cheerleading, Free was selected as a 2022 STAR Performer in GISA All-Star Cheer, for tennis, she was a Teen State Finalist, for soccer, she was selected as All-Region, and for track she was a Region Champion and State Finalist. Free has also participated in Penny’s for Patience and currently serves on the Citizens Bank Student Advisory Board. She has volunteered with the Emanuel County Clerk’s Office, Weekend Blessings, and Vacation Bible School. In the Fall, Free will be attending Georgia Southern University where she will major in Business. Her plans for the future are to start her own business. Freeselected Donna Campbell, as DEA’s STAR Teacher for the impact that she left on her during her 8th and 9th grade year, as her math teacher.

“She taught me everything I know mathematically. On days when my classmates and I were confused she never gave up on us and always believed in us, even offering extra help before and after class when she really didn’t have too. Even this year, as I took college math, she was always willing to help me any time I had a question I could not figure out. Without Miss Campbells teaching, I would have never been successful on the SAT. No one deserves STAR Teacher more than she does.” Free shared of her teacher, followed by Campbell who said of her student, “ Free is the kind of student who makes teaching easy. She asked questions when she needed clarification. She practiced her skills until she was satisfied with her results which always ended in an A, and Free worked problems that were not a part of the assignment just to make sure that she could excel in every mathematics class. Free is a highly motivated young lady, and she accepted any project or assignment with a smile. I’m so proud of her efforts in learning mathematics. She has become an independent learner which is what a teacher wants for all of his or her students to become.”

David Emanuel Academy’s 2022-2023 STAR Teacher, Mrs. Donna Campbell received her Bachelors, Masters, and Specialist degrees in Mathematics Education from Georgia Southern University. She began teaching in 1986 at Glennville High School where she served for one year, then moved to Swainsboro High School where she taught for seven years before transferring to Emanuel County Institute, where she taught for 29 years. During her last 7 years at ECI, she also taught at East Ga State College part time. She continued the overlapping of high school and college teaching for 10 years and has taught at David Emanuel Academy for 5 years. Campbell was recognized as Teacher of the Year for 1996-1997. She received the Georgia Council of Teachers Mathematics Excellence in Teaching Secondary Mathematic Award for 2011. She was nominated for the Crider’s Teacher Pay It Forward campaign in 2022. She held state officer positions in Applied Mathematics Association of Ga. Is a GCTM Conference Board member as well as a member of Delta Kappa Gamma Honor Society for women educators since 1989 and held vice-president, president and recording secretary offices.

When asked why Free deserves the honor of STAR Student, Campbell said,

“Peyton is the kind of student who makes teaching easy. She asked questions when she needed

clarification. She practiced her skills until she was satisfied with her results which always ended

in an A. Peyton worked problems that were not part of the assignment just to make sure she

could excel in every mathematics class. Free is a highly motivated young lady. She accepted

any project or assignment with a smile. She accepted my challenge of ALWAYS do your BEST. I

am so proud of her efforts in learning mathematics. She has become an independent learner

which is what a teacher wants for all his/her students to become.”

Emanuel County Institutes 2022-2023 STAR Student is Senior, Karly Olliff.

Karly Olliff is the daughter of Randy and Kara Olliff. She plans to attend the University of Georgia and major in either advertising or marketing to prepare her for the field. Olliff would like to research, design, and plan marketing programs for businesses and companies to sell their product or

service. Some of Olliff’s academic achievements include the University of Georgia Certificate of

Merit, highest average in U.S. History and Spanish I, the Academic E during all four years of

high school, and recognition as part of East Georgia State College’s Bobcat L.E.A.D

Society. Olliff is involved with several clubs and organizations, including FBLA, Senior Beta

Club, 21st Century Leaders, and the varsity softball team. She received the Program Award for

softball during the 2021 and 2022 seasons. Olliff is the current Webmaster for Beta Club and

was elected Most Intelligent by her peers this year. She has also been a Dual Enrollment student

since 2021. Olliff has been involved with several community service projects, including

Operation Christmas Child, Wreaths Across America, and has helped gather and deliver toiletries

to the local nursing home through her church.

Olliff has selected Mr. Frank Wimberly as her STAR teacher. She says, “Every teacher I

have had has left an impression on me in some way, but there has been no other quite like Coach

Wimberly. He has always been a positive influence on me whether I knew it in the moment or

not. Coach Wimberly has a way of making his students think for themselves, which I believe is

one of the most valuable qualities a person can have. He pushes his students and players to

become the best version of themselves they can be and teaches them to never settle for ‘good’,

but strive to be ‘great’. I always enjoy coming to his class because there’s always something new

to learn about life, the world, or whatever subject he may be teaching. Coach Wimberly is one of

the only teachers I have had that has taught in a way in which the material sticks with me long after the class has ended. I also cherish the genuine care for and relationships he builds with each student. Because of Mr. Wimberly’s wonderful teaching abilities and the dedication he shows each student, he is most deserving of STAR teacher.”

Emanuel County Institutes, 2022-2023 STAR Teacher, Frank Wimberly, is a 2006 graduate of David Emanuel Academy. He received his Bachelor of Arts in History from Georgia Southern University in 2010. In 2017, he completed his Master of Education in Teacher Leadership from Clayton State University. At an early age, he knew he wanted to be an educator. Several teachers and coaches played an integral role in his youth. Investing their care and sacrifice into his well-being inspired a passion to pay it forward and be “that teacher” for his students.

Mr. Wimberly began his career at Johnson County High School, serving for two years as the US History and Economics teacher, as well as coaching varsity football and baseball. In 2013, he moved to Emanuel County Institute continuing to teach these subjects, as well as serving as the varsity softball and tennis coach. Mr. Wimberly was recognized as the 2020 Teacher of the Year for his school. In 2022, he was named the Georgia Dugout Club and Georgia Athletic Coaches Association, Class A-II Softball Coach of the Year. Finishing his 12th year in education, Mr. Wimberly still has a passion for building relationships while teaching the subjects he loves. He believes that academic growth must originate from personal connections and being that positive presence for his students.

Olliff is currently taking her third high school course with Mr. Wimberly and is a four-year varsity softball player.

When asked what makes Karly exceptional, Wimberly replied, “Her work ethic, accountability, and ever-present aura of positivity. She takes great pride in doing things right and doing them well. Whatever the task may be, Karly embraces it with a goal of mastery no matter the amount of effort required. While trying to be the best student-athlete she can be, she also strives to be a positive example for her classmates and teammates. She is a leader among her peers who is intent on serving others while maintaining the highest levels of personal accountability. We often say, ‘Kids today’, but Karly is not one of those kids. She remains grounded with humility and affection and empathy for those around her and an inherent determination to achieve. He ability to personify these values combined with a healthy dose of perfectionism are the intangible separators that make her most deserving of this honor. She is great example of the many positives her generation offers to the future. She is a great example of the best that Emanuel County School system has to offer. I’ve been truly blessed to play a small part in this chapter of her life and look forward to watching her write the rest of her story.”

Swainsboro High Schools 2022-2023 STAR Student is Senior, Manuel Fernandez.

Manuel Fernandez is the son of Christopher and Alexandra Flowers. During his High School career, Fernandez participated in the Band of Gold and played Tennis. Fernandez is a member of the BETA Club and the Technology Student Association and accredits both organizations as being a huge part of his high school experience. Throughout his High School Career, Fernandez has maintained Honor Roll Status, received the University of Georgia Certificate of Merit, and was selected to serve on the Citizens Bank Student Advisory Board. He was also chosen as a 2023 Senior Superlative and earned the honor of STAR Student for his graduating class. Giving back and serving others has always been very important to Fernandez. In the last four years he has had the pleasure of partaking in two mission trips. He currently works part-time at Idea 7, an engineering research and development company based out of Stillmore, GA, where he has the title of product design developer. In the near future, Fernandez plans to assist Mrs. Erin Youmans, who runs a STEM program for several nearby counties. His job will be to assist younger kids

with 3D printers. This should come easy to Fernandez, as this is his major hobby.

After graduating from high school, Fernandez plans to complete his associate’s degree at East

Georgia State College, where he has taken dual enrollment classes since 2021. He then plans to

attend Georgia Tech as he wishes to further his education in the field of Engineering. Fernandez selected Mr. Joseph O’Neal as his STAR teacher because of the impact he had on his

interest in engineering and future plans. Mr. O’Neal is extremely knowledgeable, and Fernandez

credits him as influencing him to apply for his current job. “Mr. O’Neal offers students

opportunities to learn and experience things they normally would not be able to participate in.

From starting an E-sports team to building a 3D printing farm to running a CNC machine, Mr.

O’Neal is always trying to find interesting ways to get students to engage students in learning

about the engineering and technology world. Mr. O’Neal introduced me to a large

percentage of the machines and techniques he regularly uses at work, school, and home. Mr.

O’Neal allowed me to gain experience in a great environment, which is why he is my STAR

teacher.” Fernandez explained.

Swainsboro High Schools 2022-2023 STAR Teacher, Joseph O’Neal, is the Engineering and Technology Teacher at Swainsboro High School. O’Neal has enjoyed the privilege of helping students complete CTAE pathways as a Career, Technical, and Agriculture Education teacher. Mr. O’Neal began his teaching career teaching science courses at Dodge County High School in 2005. From there, he moved to Toombs County High School and taught science and agriculture classes for ten years, later moving to Montgomery County High School to continue in science education. In 2016, his career shifted as he began working for the Georgia Department of Corrections Academic Education program, where he remained for three years. He returned to the classroom in 2020 and found a home at Swainsboro High School. In addition to classroom teaching, O’Neal sponsors the competitive club, Technology Students of America, and he founded the eSports team for the high school. Since Mr. O’Neal works with students over multiple semesters and years, he is able to cultivate relationships with them as they master the skills needed in their professions.

While he first taught STAR Student Manuel Fernandez in chemistry, he has since had the pleasure of teaching him in engineering and technology classes as well. Mr. O’Neal saw Fernandez’s aptitude for the curriculum and the desire to do and learn more in class early on. He said that “Manuel has the unique ability to quickly grasp the skills and knowledge needed to be successful in the Engineering and Technology class. He is always motivated to complete the assignments and projects offered to him in class without complaint or hesitation.” Mr. O’Neal added that seeing Manuel apply the skills that he has learned to his life outside of school is rewarding to him as his teacher. Mr. O’Neal further said this about Manuel Fernandez and why he thought he was a STAR student. “It was early on that I saw Manuel’s aptitude for the curriculum and the desire to do and learn more in class. Manuel has the unique ability to grasp the skills and knowledge needed to be successful in the Engineering and Technology class. He is always motivated to complete the assignments and projects offered to him without complaint or hesitation. Seeing Manuel apply the skills he has learned to his life outside of school is rewarding to me as his teacher.”

After STAR Students and Teachers were given their awards, Bertoch then announced the County-wide winner as ECI STAR Student, Karly Olliff and her teacher Frank Wimberly.

Leanna’s named Business of the Year!

Board member, Kristin Hall, then presented the award of Business of the Year to beloved downtown Swainsboro café, Leanna’s. Leanna’s owners, Levi and Arianna Stoltzfus shared this statement:

“It is our honor to be a part of the business community of Emanuel County. We appreciate and value all of you and the wonderful town here. At Leanna’s, our mission is offering a slice of hope to the community. If we have made a positive impact on the people that enter Leanna’s, then we feel that we have achieved our goal. Being able to serve good food at a fair value is an added bonus. After 20 plus years in a wholesale bakery business our family relocated to Kite, Georgia. We decided if we were to get back into the food business it would be more of a retail setting where we could connect with the community on a personnel level. What we didn’t expect was the amazing support and dedication of the locals here and the warm hometown feeling that the people of Swainsboro have shown. It has been an incredible experience. Swainsboro is a special place with so many genuine, gracious people. Our desire at Leanna’s is to not only create food but a great experience. We believe that good food should be enjoyed in both preparation and consuming. We believe that families sitting down and enjoying food together can generate a great platform of special memories, great discussions and even healing misunderstandings and conflicts. In the future we are interested in getting more into the kraft of food preparation with the possible building expansion on the horizon, we would love to continue to bring in variety as well as incorporating more European style baking. A special thank you to the Chamber of Commerce for their continuous support and encouragement in the past three years that we have been here. Our family came into this with limited restaurant experience, and they have been very supportive from the beginning in spite of the initial challenges that covid brought in 2020 to the continued support and patronage at Leanna’s. A special recognition as well to our wonderful employees for all of their hard work and dedication to Leanna’s. They are an amazing part of our team, and we are grateful to each one of them.” Hall concluded the award recognition with sweet, honest words regarding the real family-like atmosphere that can only be found at Leanna’s. It’s truly one of a kind. After the Stoltzfus’s received their award, Levi turned to the crowd and said, “We serve the cream of the crop.” And that, they do!

Porter named Citizen of the Year!

The conclusion of the ceremony was presented by board member, Damien Scott, who announced the award for Swainsboro, Emanuel County Chamber of Commerce Citizen of the Year. This year, the award was presented to someone who has made service a central aspect of her life, Juanita Porter. Porter graduated from the famous Georgia Baptist School of Nursing. She has raised four great young men, Daniel, Christopher, David, and Benjamin and now has four precious grandchildren.

“One might think that service to her family and healthcare is enough for anyone to feel highly accomplished and ready to slow down but the humble and diligent spirit of Mrs. Porter continues to have an appetite for the service in her community. She has served in more ways unseen than seen and yet there is still an exhaustive list of all the various physical ways in which she has served our community.” Scott explained.

Porter has served as a trustee on the East Georgia State College foundation for multiple years. She has served as a president of 4H Volunteer Leaders Society for multiple years. She served as the President for Swainsboro Primary, Elementary, Middle, and High-School parent teacher organizations for over ten years. She served as a den leader for troop 75 cub scouts for over 10 plus years. She served on the judicial and citizens review panel of Emanuel County for Children in Foster Care for multiple years. She served as a Citizen Advisory Committee member for eight years. She was a Community Health Nurse at Children and Youth Clinic at the medical College of Georgia for three years. She was a Case Manager for Community Hospice in Vidalia for 8 years and she currently serves on the Emanuel Medical Center Foundation. She has been a faithful member of the Mount Zion Baptist Church in Soperton for the past 18 years, where she has taught Bible Study classes and Sunday School classes and worked with the Senior Mission and served on the Health Ministry.

“In 2015 Mrs. Juanita and I met when we started a Community Care Coordination Program in Emanuel Medical center.” Scott shared, “We were probably one of the first in the state. At that time, Mrs. Juanita was assigned to help manage the care of the ten most medically complex patients in Emanuel County. She is a pioneer in this type of work because there were only a couple of hospitals statewide that were even attempting to do this type of service. She noticed early on that healthcare often involved things other than providing healthcare. People with complex medical problems also have complex mental problems and have extremely challenging social situations as well. Sometimes we would discharge a patient with a medication that needed to be refrigerated but the patient didn’t own a refrigerator. Sometimes the patient didn’t have food, or furniture or medical equipment. She would see this need and initially go around to her co-workers and ask for donations, eventually that led to the local churches, and eventually she decided that she was going to found something, so she founded the Emanuel Medical Center’s, Resource Center in 2017. This was an amazing project birth out of a vision that God gave her to help those who are most in need in our community. Today, the Emanuel County Resource Center partners with churches, organizations, and people in the community to provide and distribute everything from donated items such as clothes and furniture to medical equipment and transportation to doctors’ offices. This unique program has set the standard for helping meet the social determinacy of health. Now Juanita Porter oversees a team of care coordinators and Chronic Care Managers that serve those in this community with complex medical problems. There is so much to be appreciated in a life and service of Mrs. Porter but all of the selflessness and service that she gives is not from a place of fame piety or a desire of notoriety but rather it is the fruit of a sincere walk with Jesus Christ as her Lord and Savior. Mrs. Juanita Porter is a phenomenal woman indeed and we are all enriched by her services.” Scott kindly said in conclusion.

After Mrs. Porter received her award, she shared that “It is the community of Emanuel County that I serve. This is home to me, and it gives me great joy to be able to live out my faith and to do what I do. I could not do it without Emanuel County because it is you who has partnered with me to donate the items to the center. There are many needs here in Emanuel County and many people who don’t have the resources. They don’t have insurance, and some are homeless. So, we are able to take those donated items and provide them to those who need it most. Spread the word on what we are doing.” The Emanuel County Resource Center is available to serve, and they need volunteers. If anyone would like to donate or volunteer your time, please contact Emanuel County Medical Center for more information.

Congratulations to these incredible people and thank you for your efforts in making Emanuel County a wonderful place to call home!


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